One of our favourite weekender escapes from Auckland, this road trip will take you from the City of Sails to the Wild West Coast (a.k.a. Piha) and back again, with a good dose of adventure along the way. Through lush forest and arty villages, past dramatic coastlines and rural wineries, this is sure to be a road trip to remember. For those eco-warriors with EVs, this trip is designed to work with just one overnight charge at your destination, but there are several charging options along the way if you get desperate. Just make sure you have the PlugShare app downloaded to help you.
In order to prevent the spread of kauri dieback disease, which threatens one of New Zealand’s most precious native tree species, the Waitakere Ranges have strict access constraints currently in place. Luckily, there is much more to experience out west than just the restricted walking tracks, so this road trip is chock-full of exciting things to keep you from straying off the path (or onto it, so to speak).
Start your day (and road trip) at a cafe which somehow manages to simultaneously be Auckland’s most funky and most homely. Take one sip of your Bestie coffee overlooking Myers Park and the Sky Tower and we’re pretty sure you’ll see what we mean. There’s something about St Kevin’s Arcade on the infamous K’Road strip that makes you feel instantly cool, like you’re in an 80s sitcom but with a futuristic electric vehicle waiting for you out front. For a delicious breakfast in front of a first-class view, Bestie’s spot right by the arcade’s incredible window takes the cake (and serves it too).
The Auckland War Memorial Museum stands at the peak of the Auckland Domain, looking across the city and the Waitematā Harbour in all its neoclassical splendour. Inside, you’ll find interactive galleries of social, cultural and natural history, as well as ever-changing exhibitions, which all tell stories of how Auckland, New Zealand, and Oceania came to be. Spend the morning discovering all the wonder that lies within the enormous walls, and don’t miss the impressive volcano room, nightmares included.
The rough Māori translation of Titirangi is ‘fringe of heaven,’ which seems appropriate given its placement at the gateway of the Waitakere Ranges and Auckland’s western treasures. It’s a short 25-minute drive from Auckland to the fringe of heaven, but one which sees you cross the boundary between city streets and endless native forest. Stop for lunch in the historic Lopdell House, where Deco Eatery has transformed the 1930s Spanish Mission architecture into a bustling cafe/restaurant. To sample their best combinations of traditional Turkish cuisine with fresh New Zealand produce, try the Lahmajun or Fattoush Salad. We think they’re pretty delish.
Right next door to Lopdell House and Deco Eatery is the Te Uru Waitakere Contemporary Gallery, a modern building which has a stark contrast (in both design and colour) against its much more senior neighbour. Te Uru is the regional gallery for West Auckland, creating a space where local art, crafts and design can be brought forward to the world stage. Have a wander around the beautiful interior and check out the pretty spectacular vista of the gallery’s lush surrounds whilst soaking in the culture of the community... Who said the Wild West was just beaches and bush walks?
The season and weather may affect the appeal of the waves, but swimming at Piha can be a pretty unique experience on a good day. Beaches are only patrolled by surf lifeguards between Labour Weekend in October and Easter in April, and given the often perilous conditions of the Piha surf, we urge you to only ever swim between the flagged and patrolled areas. If Mother Nature or timing isn’t on your side, the Tasman Lookout Track is an absolute must-do to give you that iconic view of Piha Beach and the imposing Lion Rock. Continue along the out-and-back track to see the destructive power of the ocean at ‘The Gap’.
There’s nothing more Kiwi than a dinner of fish and chips by the beach, so head to the Piha Surf Lifesaving Clubrooms for just that. Over the sand dunes from the beach, the Surf Club Kitchen is open until late Thursday to Sunday, and is the epitome of coastal New Zealand lifestyle. You can either stay and eat your meal amongst the atmosphere of the ‘clubbies,’ or take it down for a picnic on the sand; either way, you will be positioned perfectly to watch the sun meeting the horizon.
** Please note the surf club restaurant has recently closed but is meant to be reopening soon. Check their site.**
There are several boutique and luxury accommodation options in Piha, with Airbnbs, B&Bs and cottages constantly popping up. There is something for everyone and every budget, most of which include peaceful bush surroundings and/or ocean views. However, possibly the best option for a short stay is the Piha Domain Campground, which is barely a five minute walk from the beach or cafes. Plug in your snazzy car so it can charge overnight and then pop up a tent so you can wake to the sound of waves crashing and native birds chirping.
No morning in Piha is bonafide without a burst of outdoor activity, whether it be in the water, on the sands or scrambling up a cliff-face. If you’ve hauled a surfboard with you on your roadie, it might be the perfect chance to join the local surfies and jump into the renowned Piha waves, but if the conditions aren’t great, it might be a better idea to stick to dry land and go for a relaxing stroll along the beach. For the more adventure-inclined, a short but steep clamber up Lion Rock will reward you with some one-of-a-kind views, but stay behind the barriers as a rockfall has made access to the very top too dangerous.
To refuel after your morning activity, Piha Cafe is open 6 days a week from 8am serving up hearty Kiwi breakfasts and tasty coffee. It’s the best place in the small neighbourhood to embrace the relaxed and coastal atmosphere over your morning coffee, so take your time and draw your beachside morning out as long as you can. It’s always worth indulging in their famous Kiwi Fry-Up, especially when you’ve got a bit of a drive ahead of you. And you’ll be thrilled your car is fully charged, because you’re about to scale the Waitakeres.
After a windy but beautiful 50-minute drive (make sure you stop at any lookout points along the way because the view of Auckland City is jaw-dropping!), you’ll pull up in Kumeu, West Auckland’s wine-growing getaway region. If you’re lucky enough to be in the rural district on the third Sunday of the month, the Kumeu Farmers’ Market is a must-do for arts, crafts, food trucks and children’s entertainment. However, if the stars don’t quite align, the Kumeu Arts Centre is also worth a visit to see the work of local artists. Check their website ahead of schedule to see what will be exhibiting when you’re in the ‘hood.
For a lunch spot that combines history, scenery and gastronomy, The Riverhead is a dining complex full of character. Choose between The Landing Restaurant, The Portage Neighbourhood Bar and The Boathouse Function Centre (which is only open to the public on Sundays) to match the vibe you’re after, and enjoy the fresh air at the head of the Waitematā Harbour. Over 160 years old, The Riverhead is thought to be the oldest riverside tavern in New Zealand, but the stunning renovations would never make you believe it.
Whilst you’re in the region, you can’t not to go to a cellar door or two to taste the notes of Kumeu’s wineries. Soljans Estate, The Hunting Lodge and Coopers Creek (who have Sunday Jazz during the summer months) are all great picks, where you will learn about their winemaking processes whilst having a guided wine tasting experience. The party doesn’t have to stop there either, because all cellar doors have their full ranges for sale so you can bring a few bottles back to Auckland with you.
Cruise the 20 minute ride back to the city, taking one last chance to enjoy the bliss of completely natural surroundings at Western Springs Park on your way in. An historic source of Auckland’s water supply, Western Springs is now a beautiful 64-acre wildlife sanctuary with a natural spring-fed lake and a wide variety of water birds, fish and plant species. Enjoy one of the many walking tracks that surround the park (one of which puts you in a great position to spot the elephants from the neighbouring Auckland Zoo!), or visit the newly-opened Fukuoka Garden, which celebrates Auckland’s sister-city relationship with Japan’s Fukuoka City.
One of Auckland’s newest pizzerias, UMU is a restaurant that should be on every dough lover’s hit list. Tucked away in one of Auckland’s most underrated suburbs, Kingsland’s UMU has an intimate and brick-built interior that could fool you into thinking you were dining coast-side in Naples. Seal off your weekend EV trip by feasting on a simple but incomparable menu of eight pizzas, made using a 200-year old Italian bread culture and 500ºC wood-fire oven. Sounds pretty great, right?
Banner Photo Credit: Pure New Zealand